Contact: Sonja Stueart-Davis, 713-274-0950, firstname.lastname@example.org
CONROE — “Leading Your Career” was the theme for the recent conference held by the Epsilon Sigma Phi-Texas Alpha Zeta chapter, a national organization dedicated to fostering standards of excellence and development for Extension professionals.
The two-day conference in Conroe featured a number of speakers, including Dr. Parr Rosson, interim director of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service, and and Dr. Ali Fares, interim dean, Prairie View A&M University Cooperative Extension Program.
“ESP is a national organization dedicated to fostering standards of excellence in the Extension system and developing the Extension profession as well as the professional,” said Sonja Stueart-Davis, chapter president and AgriLife Extension agent in Harris County.
“As an agent and 4-H specialist, I never knew what that meant. I paid my membership fee annually and, depending on which district I was in, that would determine the extent of my involvement and understanding of the membership. Clearly I was not the only person who felt this way.”
Davis said discussions and preparation for the Conroe meeting began in 2016 and continued throughout 2017. Davis said the conference planning committee identified the following objectives:
– Establish a cross-disciplinary network of professionals with Extension and provide Extension professionals with knowledge and skills necessary to be effective educators.
– Equip professionals with tools to navigate core elements of Extension education that transcend subject matter and specific disciplines; recognize members for outstanding accomplishments.
– Enhance the value of membership in ESP and increase awareness and outreach.
“We feel that all the objectives were accomplished, and the overall conference exceeded our expectations,” she said.
The conference opened with a presentation on Preparing for the Career Ladder led by Vince Mannino, AgriLife Extension agent for Fort Bend County.
“Vince provided a step-by-step training on how to both plan and prepare for the career ladder,” Mannino said. “Successful career ladder-related documents begin with planning with the end in mind and determining what is needed to advance to the next level and achieving the goals.”
In addition, Ericka Bochat and Dr. Philip Shackelford, Southeast regional program leaders provided information and moderated a panel discussion of Level 3 and 4 agents. They addressed subjects from how they prepared for these levels and suggestions on when to begin and work with mentor agents.
The AgriLife Extension panelists were Kayla Kasper, Dr. Connie Shepherd, Robert Richter, Julie Massey, Cary Sims and Amy Ressler. A training session was also held on effective communication as many Extension professionals often communicate with administrators, coworkers, volunteers, parents and youth.
“Dr. Philippa Strelitz, consultant with Dede Church and Associates LLC, provided information to help us access our individual communication style to minimize conflict and explore ways to enhance our leadership agility,” Davis said.
The evening was followed by dinner and entertainment from Tom Wilbeck, a guitar playing psychologist who discussed the “Anatomy of Conflict” and the importance of engaging the frontal lobe to control emotions so the brain stem won’t react.
“His conflict resolution techniques should help Extension professional to minimize conflict in various settings,” she said.
Jerry Brown and Henry Judah of the Texas A&M University System discussed areas of liability and risk and informed agents of policies and procedures in place to minimize risks. They provided examples of situations past agents have experienced and the importance of being proactive in programming, working with volunteers and establishing memorandums of understanding.
Administrators, agents, specialists and administrative staff were recognized during the awards luncheon and Daphne Richards, past president and AgriLife Extension horticulture agent for Travis County, was recognized as ESP Member of the Year.
Dr. Holly Jarvis with Texas A&M AgriLife Communications in College Station closed the conference and presented “Using Technology to Increase Teaching and Outreach.”
Davis thanked the planning committee that consisted of Paul Winski, Daphne Richards, Allison Watkins, Tonya Poncik, Justin Saenz, Amy Ressler, Courtney Davis, Courtney Latour, Milissa Wright, Joice Jeffries, Jacque Behrens, Crystal Wiltz, Vince Mannino, Natalie Cervantes, Brock Fry, Michael Lopez and Rebecca Scono. She also thanked the District 9 ESP Members, Ag Workers Insurance Co. and Montgomery County Master Gardeners for their contributions in making the conference a success.